Mother Trees: Editor’s Letter and TOC

Among the wonderful books I read for this month’s BookShelf was Suzanne Simard’s “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.”

It is part memoir, with colorful detail, about her childhood in a British Columbia logging family and her evolution as a naturalist detective in forestry. Simard examined starving seedlings that did not thrive. “There was a maddening disconnect between the roots and the soil,” she writes.

In her research, she discovered that “mother trees” connect and sustain a vast underground network and signal how to nourish children in naturally diverse neighborhoods. This led Simard to recognize that the long- established system of cutting down diversity to make way for plantations of single-tree commodities was the wrong approach.

The intent of this commodities approach was to clear-cut forests in order to “get rid of the competition. [The expectation was that] once the light, water, and nutrients were freed up by obliterating the native plants, the lucrative conifers [used for paper, housing, and other materials] would suck them up and grow as fast as redwood.”

Simard continues: “Of no concern was the nitrogen added to the soil by the leafy-green alders, now clear-cut and burned to make way for seedlings. Or that the bunchy pinegrass provided shade for new Douglas-fir germinants, which otherwise ended up baking in the intense heat of wide- open clear-cuts. Or that the rhododendrons protected the smaller prickly-needled spruce seedlings from hard frosts that were much more severe out in the open than under a jigsaw canopy.”

One-third of the way through the story of Simard’s evolution in forestry, she wrote: “Helicopters were spraying the valleys with chemicals to kill the aspens, alders, and birches in order to grow cash crops of spruces, pines, and firs. I had to stop it.” She says she knew decision-makers would not be happy about her findings. “I just didn’t have any idea how much.”

Sounds like a metaphor for the last 400 years.

Simard notes that our tendency to use fertilizer, instead of cultivating the biodiversity that makes a natural habitat thrive, does not account for the fact that collaborative relationships are key to survival.

Simard’s theory was originally dismissed, then popularized as the inspiration for the 2009 movie “Avatar,” and has since been borne out by hundreds of subsequent studies.


When we were compiling the “35 Years of Minnesota Women” book, I discovered a quote from a Mary Turck article in 1989 that ended up leading our chapter on ecofeminism: “Woman, like nature, is treated as an inferior, an object, a ‘natural slave’ by patriarchal culture. In contrast, ecofeminism holds that women and children and men and animals and plants and rivers and the earth itself are all a part of nature. Rather than being arranged in a hierarchy, they are inextricably connected to the web of life.”

The people in this magazine understand why supporting, healing, and respecting earth, water, and air are essential to our ability to survive, and thrive, into the future. Failing to do that is why the long-standing experiment in clear-cutting the environment in order to prioritize one objective does not work.

Connect With Us

This double issue is available for the rest of the summer months to read, reflect on, and use as a point of connection via our growing channels of communication. Join ecofeminists (July 21) and trauma healers (August 16) in conversation with our statewide summer series of listening sessions.

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“I allowed myself to believe that in another hundred years, there will be others standing at this same brink of beauty, grateful for all that remains wild and wholesome and free.”

— Terry Tempest Williams

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